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Why are Spurs up 2-0 on Trail Blazers? Thank Tiago Splitter.

May 9, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT

Tiago Splitter, LaMarcus Aldridge Tiago Splitter, LaMarcus Aldridge

Tiago Splitter was one of the most hyped European transfers in a long time when the Brazilian big man came to the NBA — he was the Spanish league MVP, another in a long line of steals from the Spurs front office. Except he got here and didn’t exactly take the NBA by storm. Gregg Popovich limited his minutes and said he’s a future role player in the league.

Splitter has find his NBA game now, and while he is not a transcendent star he is integral to what the Spurs do and is a huge reason the Spurs are up 2-0 on the Trail Blazers.

Last round LaMarcus Aldridge tore apart the Houston Rockets, forced them to go to a two-bigs lineup with Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, still shot 47.9 percent and had an offensive rating of 115 (points per 100 possessions used in that series). (Stats compiled by the NBA’s Sports VU cameras, via the great John Schuhmann of that site).

Splitter has drawn the Aldridge assignment this series and through two games Aldridge is 8-of-25 when Splitter is on him. In Game 2 Aldridge was 1-of-9 from his preferred left block spot with Splitter on him. The Spurs have contested 38 of Aldridge’s shots in two games (he has hit 15), left him uncontested for just 10. They are making him work for his points.

So many good things flow out of this for the Spurs. First, Splitter single-covering Aldridge lets the other Spurs defenders stay home on three point shooters, lessening that weapon that the Blazers rely on. Second, those missed shots become transition opportunities for the Spurs, who have destroyed the Blazers early in the clock before their defense is set this series.

Behind Aldridge and Lillard, the Blazers have no other shot creators. They don’t have Manu Ginobili to turn to this series and that depth has been a big issue through two games.

Heading back home to Portland, the Blazers will make adjustments — as Schuhmann noted at, when Aldridge curled into the lane off a pindown he got good looks. Portland can’t just throw the ball to him in the post now, they have to have him getting the ball on the move.

The Blazers will do it, but it takes them out of their traditional rhythm, their comfort zone. And that is what the Spurs do well, make you uncomfortable with what you prefer to do.

Splitter is a big part of that this series.

  1. antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    Why? Because these Blazers have the 16th ranked defense and as much 2nd round playoff experience as I do. That’s not going to get it done.

  2. aboogy123456 - May 9, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    This series is over, but one positive could be for Lillard to get a first-hand look at Tony Parker. Both are undersized and neither player is ever going to be a defensive stopper, but Lillard can learn how Parker relentlessly attacks a defense and opens up plays for his teammates rather than settling for 3s. Lillard can be one of the best point guards one day, and I think he should try to take some of what Parker does.

    • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 4:03 PM

      Yes, the series may in fact be over – but in the past 6 years these Spurs have displayed the impressive ability to come up with interesting ways to disappoint their fan base. So there remains the small possibility that the series will be 2-2 at some point with Spurs fans thinking, “oh no, not again.”

      • spursareold - May 9, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        Much like Laker fans will say “oh no, not again.” next year?

      • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 4:29 PM

        Potentially, yes.

      • pinhead2 - May 9, 2014 at 4:35 PM

        Spurs should take this as a complement. Easy to argue that every team except the winner of the Finals disappoints their fan base. Spurs have a high expectation and a legitimate shot at winning it all, every year. So every year they don’t is disappointing? Yes, but Spurs fans are pretty spoiled overall and they know it and are very loyal. There’s always a possibility your team might lose a series when they’re up, but Spurs overall deliver a pretty good consistent product. Disappointed not to win the championship in any given year – most teams and fans wouldn’t mind that too much.

      • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        No, not exactly. Losing in the first round 2 out of the last 5 years is a separate type of disappointment that has nothing to do with the fact that they didn’t win a championship.

        And losing Game 6 in the finals last year was just the latest addition to their recent line of crushing failures.

      • kavika6 - May 10, 2014 at 5:36 AM

        antistratfordian must be a Heat fan. Otherwise how can he make fun of a team that lost game 7 of the Finals.

      • antistratfordian - May 10, 2014 at 4:44 PM

        That’s kind of the point. The Spurs are probably the only team I can think of that one can mock for losing a Game 7 in the finals because of how spectacularly they collapsed in Game 6.

        The tail end of Game 6 was probably the most thorough team failure in a 25 second span that we’ve ever seen in the finals – from the players all the way up to Pop.

  3. void96eater - May 9, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    I think Kawhi deserves more credit than Splitter, personally. He’s really developed from last year.

    • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 4:04 PM

      He was better in the playoffs last year, actually.

      • spursareold - May 9, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        Finals. He was about the same in the early rounds last year.

      • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        Through the first three rounds last year he had an average Game Score of 12.4 Through the first 9 games this year it’s 10.7.

        Overall he was better over those 21 playoff games last year than he has been over these 9.

      • spursareold - May 9, 2014 at 5:00 PM playoff stats page shows him at 13.2p/7.3r thru 9 games. has the same numbers.

      • antistratfordian - May 9, 2014 at 5:05 PM

        Yes, 13.2 points, 7.3 rebounds at .529% shooting.

        Last year through the first three rounds he averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds at .565% shooting.

        A little better last year.

        What did stay the same is his free throw shooting. 59%. Yikes.

  4. kb2408 - May 9, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    If he can guard Dirk and LaMarcus one on one, he can certainly guard the Eastern Conf power forwards. The Spurs are better than they were last year because the Big 3 is still really good and players like Tiago and Leonard have improved. They also have the best coach and the deepest bench in the league. The “real” Finals will be the Western Conf. Finals.

  5. ragingmouse - May 9, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    I like Tiagos energy and footwork!

    He is starting to use his hands more now and has really improved his defense!

    Becoming x- factor for SA!

  6. zoomy123 - May 9, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    The credit doesn’t go to Tiago Splitter, the blame should be heaped on Lamarcus Aldridge. Nobody in their right mind thinks that Tiago Splitter should be able to guard Aldridge one-on-one. There are two problems: For one Aldridge is predictable as all hell. Second, Aldridge doesn’t have good shot selection. As a power forward, turnaround jumpers from 17-20 away are just bad shots unless you’re prime Dirk Nowitzki. Those are just low quality, low percentage shots, but Aldridge LOVES them; and so do the Spurs.

    • lunasceiling - May 9, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      Aldridge has been making bank on those midrange jumpers all season. In this series, they haven’t been falling, and it’s fair to say Splitter’s had a hand in that (although LA has missed a lot of open ones, too).

      I agree about him being ridiculously predictable, though. It’s either that jumper or else he backs his guy in on the left side then curls to the middle of the paint for a jump-hook. One or the other. Defenses know just when they need to send someone to double. The other Blazers need to run to space faster so Aldridge has an outlet. They’re not doing that. They’re staying in the clear-out too long.

      • zoomy123 - May 10, 2014 at 2:09 AM

        A lot of things look good in the regular season but aren’t really good in the playoffs. 17-20 foot turnaround jumpers by your power forward is one of them. The only reason why those shots were falling against Houston is because Houston doesn’t play defense; they play to outscore you. The Spurs actually play great defense, so those shots are now contested, hence why they’re not falling. If Lamarcus establishes his initial position closer to the basket, then he not only has a larger variety of shots at his disposal but if he wants to take that turnaround from, say, 12 feet, then it’s money. But LA doesn’t do this.

  7. the1nonlyk - May 10, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    i agree tiago has been a beast ive seen his hands actually knock some balls free with the spurs hitting it on the other side in transition. when tiago got one free and then tried to save it out of bounds by actually throwing himself on the floor u know he was playing hard n agressive. keep it up splitter and everyone else playing defense keep on em good defense = good offense in transition for easy buckets. love this team and every player on it! go spurs!

  8. the1nonlyk - May 10, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    ps there was so much hype on the blazers goin into this series that either way does not look deserved they will meed to regroup and rebuild in off season. too bad batum signed a huge contract otherwise i could so see him joining the spurs team

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